Breaking Up is Hard to Do

There are few things in life as emotionally devastating as breaking up with someone you care for deeply and have long-since fostered a meaningful connection with. For those who are in addiction recovery, staying sober after a difficult break-up is not always easy. While active in your addiction, you likely reached for a chemical substance of some kind as soon as things got slightly uncomfortable. While alcohol and drugs might successfully numb out negative feelings and difficult emotions short-term, attempting to get through a break-up by drinking and drugging to oblivion is similar to slapping a Band-aid on a serious shark bite. Anesthetizing your feelings only makes them more difficult to process in the long-run. If you have recently gone through a break-up and you are currently trying to stay sober, you might be wondering what steps you can take. The most important thing is that you stick to your personal program of addiction recovery. As long as you surround yourself with supportive sober friends, continue attending 12 step meetings on a daily basis and continue on with your individualized aftercare program you will ultimately be just fine. Remember that all emotions are temporary and time really does heal all wounds.

Navigating your first heartbreak in sobriety can be especially difficult because of all of the other challenges you are undeniably facing. Not only are you tending to a broken heart, but you are maintaining sobriety, coping with everything without drugs or alcohol and likely either working or going to school full-time. You might want to bury yourself in your bed and shut out the world completely, waiting for the feelings of sadness, despair and loneliness to pass. Rather than do this, try taking actions. Reach out to people who have been where you are now and ask them how they stayed sober through their heartbreak. Get outside and engage in healthy activities that make you feel good about yourself. Above all else, get to as many 12 step meetings as you can and share openly and honestly about where you are at in your life and in your recovery.

Coping Skills and Relapse Prevention

How does one stay sober after a break-up? There are numerous coping skills and relapse prevention strategies that you can employ in order to protect your sobriety.

These include (but are not limited to):

  • Separate yourself from your ex completely and as soon as possible – Although it might seem rather dramatic, one of the best things you can do for yourself is block your ex’s number and block him or her on all social media platforms. Not only does this make it easier to move on, but doing this helps you avoid the vicious cycle of getting back together and breaking up repeatedly.
  • There is no harm in distracting yourself – Healthy distractions are good distractions! Keep showing up for meetings and for other personal obligations. Fill your time with social and recreational activities. Plan late-night movie nights with your friends.
  • Even if you feel emotionally depleted, stick to your recovery routine – It can be difficult to find the motivation to continue on in your daily routine after going through something as emotionally devastating as a break-up. Drag yourself out of bed and keep on keeping on – you will feel a lot better if you do!
  • Spend as much time as possible with close friends and family members – Being around loved ones always helps soften the blow. This way you are reminded that you are loved by many and that you are truly never alone.
  • Seek individual therapy if you are not already doing so – Seeking professional help is always a good idea. Having the insight of an unbiased third party to vent to and talk things through with is extremely beneficial.
  • Try journaling your feelings – Make a list of reasons why the relationship did not work out and why you are better off alone at the moment. Getting things down on paper helps you process exactly what you are feeling and why. For some, other creative processes are more beneficial. If you are not a big fan of writing, for example, try making a collage or painting. Art can be extremely therapeutic and can help you process things you were not even aware that you were struggling with.
  • Avoid engaging in unhealthy distractions! – As appealing as hopping on Tinder and seeking some external validation might sound, try replacing the classic “rebound” with some healthy behaviors that will actually help you grow as an individual. Volunteer for a nonprofit or put your energy into doing something creative. Soon enough you will learn how to effectively validate yourself – until then, engage in activities that help build self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Looking for temporary hook-ups to help ease the emotional pain generally has the opposite effect.

The Golden Rule

One of the golden rules of addiction recovery is, “Do not make any major changes within the first year of sobriety.” This applies to a wide range of things, from major career changes to entering into a new romantic relationship. When you begin participating in a 12 step program of addiction recovery, the “old-timers” (men and women who have been sober for decades) will advise you to focus on yourself and avoid getting enmeshed with anyone else until you are stable in your sobriety. This is predominantly because going through a break-up is such a significant relapse trigger. Even if you fail to heed the advice of those with ample sobriety under their belts, relapse is always avoidable. At Guardian IOP we teach our clients how to effectively avoid relapse no matter what situation they are being faced with.

Guardian IOP and Relapse Prevention

At Guardian IOP we put a very strong emphasis on the continuation of relapse prevention training. Our Intensive Outpatient Program was carefully designed by a team of experienced and compassionate professionals to make the transition from inpatient or residential rehab to sober living (and ultimately back into fully independent living) as seamless and stress-free as possible. In our IOP program, clients have the opportunity to work through relapse triggers with their peers in a safe and supportive environment. They hone healthy communication skills while offering peer support and constructive feedback. We encourage all of our clients to focus exclusively on themselves for the first year of their recovery and avoid entering into new romantic relationships. Of course, some clients come to us involved in pre-existing relationships and some of our clients enter into new relationships despite this encouragement. Regardless of what situations present themselves or what early recovery-related mistakes are made, our staff members are there to offer compassionate support and advice every single step of the way. The most important thing is that sobriety is maintained and relapse is avoided.

If you have recently gone through a break-up and are struggling to stay sober, we are available to help you get through the tough times with your sobriety intact. For more information on our comprehensive and highly individualized IOP program, simply give us a call today. Our team of Treatment Advisors conduct a brief pre-assessment over the phone to determine whether or not the level of clinical care we provide best suits your unique needs. If our program is deemed to be a good fit, we set to work developing an intake plan. We look forward to speaking with you soon and helping in any way that we can.


Reviewed for accuracy by:

Anna earned her Masters of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, FL in 2017 and completed her internship in co-occurring disorders. Anna has a Bachelors of Art in Religious Studies from Naropa University and is a certified yoga and meditation instructor. Anna has received specialized training in somatic counseling with an emphasis on body-centered psychotherapy.